May 15, 2020

Harris, Sanders, Gillibrand, Booker, Warren, Markey, Merkley Introduce Emergency Health Care Guarantee Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Friday joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 5 of their colleagues in introducing the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act to eliminate all out-of-pocket health costs for every person in America during the COVID-19 crisis. Along with Harris and Sanders, the legislation was cosponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed Americans under tremendous stress,” said Harris. “On top of wondering how they will pay rent and put food on the table, paying for medical treatment if they get sick should not be another worry for families. I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation to protect patients from cost barriers to the medical care they need to stay healthy.”

“During this public health crisis, we must make sure that everyone in America is able to receive all of the medical care they need, regardless of their income, immigration status or insurance coverage. No one in this country should be afraid to go to the doctor because of the cost—especially during a pandemic. The American people deserve an emergency health care response that is simple, straightforward, comprehensive, and cost-effective,” said Sanders. “We should empower Medicare to pay all of the medical bills of the uninsured and the under-insured—including prescription drugs—for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. When so many people in this country are struggling economically and terrified at the thought of becoming sick, the federal government has a responsibility to take the burden of health care costs off of the backs of the American people. The legislation we are introducing today does just that.”

New polling reveals overwhelming enthusiasm for this proposal. According to Data for Progress, 73 percent of American voters support Medicare covering all out-of-pocket health expenses during this emergency, including 58 percent of Republicans. In comparison, 55 percent backed a separate proposal to cover the cost of insurance premiums through COBRA, a federal program that allows those who have lost their jobs to temporarily retain their former employers’ health insurance coverage. When presented with evidence that the emergency Medicare proposal is significantly less expensive despite covering millions more people, 61 percent preferred this approach versus 14 percent who backed COBRA subsidies.

The legislation would simply leverage the existing Medicare payment infrastructure to affordably and efficiently pay all costs of treatment for the uninsured, and cover all out-of-pocket costs such as copayments and deductibles for those who already have public or private insurance. The bill also halts medical debt collections, prohibits private insurance companies from increasing cost-sharing, and requires ongoing data collection and weekly reporting on health disparities related to COVID-19. The legislation would be effective until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to the public. 

The bill enjoys the endorsement of 32 national organizations and unions including the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, National Nurses United, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America; Center for Popular Democracy, Indivisible, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), MoveOn.Org, National Domestic Workers Alliance, People’s Action, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Public Citizen, Social Security Works, Sunrise Movement, United We Dream, Working Families Party, Business for Medicare for All, Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute, Democracy for America, Democratic Socialists of America, Economic Opportunity Institute, Economic Policy Institute, Faith Action Network, Healthcare-NOW, Hometown Action, Jane Addams Senior Center, Labor Campaign for Single Payer, Legal Voice, Medicare for All Now, Partners for Dignity & Rights,, and Progressive Democrats of America. 

To read a summary of the bill, click here.

To read a section-by-section outline of the bill, click here.

To read the text of the bill, click here.

To read a polling memo on the bill, click here.